New regulation benefiting mariners in the US has come into force, following years of effort from organisations and individuals from many sectors of the industry. When the rule was initially proposed, Seafarers’ International Union (SIU) Secretary-Treasurer and SRI Advisory Board Member David Heindel testified on behalf of both the union and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (where he chairs the Seafarers’ Section) during a U.S. Department of Transportation public meeting in early 2015.
The U.S. Coast Guard on April 1 issued a final rule titled ‘Seafarers’ Access to Maritime Facilities.’ Published in the Federal Register, the rule requires ‘each owner or operator of a maritime facility regulated by the Coast Guard to implement a system providing seafarers, pilots, and representatives of seamen’s welfare and labour organisations access between vessels moored at the facility and the facility gate, in a timely manner and at no cost to the seafarer or other individuals. These access procedures must be documented in the Facility Security Plan for each facility, and approved by the local Captain of the Port. This final rule, which implements a congressional mandate, ensures that no facility owner or operator denies or makes it impractical for seafarers or other individuals to transit through the facility.’
Compliance is required by June 1, 2020.
At the public meeting in 2015 Heindel said that shore leave and terminal access aren’t just matters of convenience – they’re crucial to maritime safety and the general wellbeing of mariners. They should also be considered part of the cost of doing business as a maritime terminal, he stated.
Additionally, Heindel thanked the agency for proposing the rule, and said it is imperative that if any additional costs arise for making it easier for mariners to go ashore, those costs must not be passed on to seafarers, either directly or indirectly. He noted that although that sentiment is consistent with the proposal’s stated intent, unions and other mariner advocates were on guard to make sure that’s how it is implemented.
“The concern we have on the labour side and also with the ministry side is that the seafarers have access to shore in a timely manner and at no cost to the seafarer,” Heindel stated. “We think the terminal operators have a responsibility here. They have an obligation to make sure people have access through their terminals.”
Heindel said foreign mariners in particular have “a very, very tough time getting ashore at a lot of different terminals,” and that a balance can be reached between proper security measures and reasonable treatment of seafarers.
The SIU also submitted formal comments soon after the meeting.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard noted in the final rule, “Another benefit … is that it will conform to international conventions, which in turn benefits seafarers…. We believe this is a benefit to seafarers because if the U.S. does not adhere to these international conventions and denies shore leave to these individuals, other countries may engage in an act of reciprocity and deny shore leave to U.S. seafarers abroad.”
According to the agency, 2,469 port facilities governed by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 will update their respective facility security plans, while an additional 420 MTSA-regulated facilities will update both their respective plans and ‘facility operations.’
The Coast Guard described some of the benefits of the final rule as enhancing “the safety, health, and welfare of seafarers, and the overall quality of life by allowing seafarers access to fundamental human services.”
The last page of the rule spells out different considerations and options pertaining to mariner access. That page includes the following:
- Timely access. The facility owner or operator must provide the access described in this section without unreasonable delay, subject to review by the Captain of the Port (COTP). The facility owner or operator must consider the following when establishing timely access without unreasonable delay:
- Length of time the vessel is in port.
- Distance of egress/ingress between the vessel and facility gate.
- The vessel watch schedules.
- The facility’s safety and security procedures as required by law.
- Any other factors specific to the vessel or facility that could affect access to and from the vessel.
- Access methods. The facility owner or operator must ensure that the access described in this section is provided through one or more of the following methods:
(1) Regularly scheduled escort between the vessel and the facility gate that conforms to the vessel’s watch schedule as agreed upon between the vessel and facility.
(2) An on-call escort between the vessel and the facility gate.
(3) Arrangements with taxi services or other transportation services, ensuring that any costs for providing the access described in this section, above the service’s standard fees charged to any customer, are not charged to the individual to whom such access is provided. If a facility provides arrangements with taxi services or other transportation services as the only method for providing the access described in this section, the facility is responsible to pay any fees for transit within the facility.
(4) Arrangements with seafarers’ welfare organisations to facilitate the access described in this section.
(5) Monitored pedestrian access routes between the vessel and facility gate.
A method, other than those in paragraphs (d)(1) through (5) of this section, approved by the COTP.
If an access method relies on a third party, a back-up access method that will be used if the third party is unable to or does not provide the required access in any instance. An owner or operator must ensure that the access required in paragraph (a) of this section is actually provided in all instances.
(e) No cost to individuals. The facility owner or operator must provide the access described in this section at no cost to the individual to whom such access is provided.